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Varanasi or Banaras or Kashi is the holy city of India. Set besides the mighty holy Ganges, Varanasi is an ancient city with a modern side to it as well. You must visit Varanasi if you wish to gain a deeper insight into Hindu customs, mythology and beliefs. Whether it's watching the famous prayer at a Varanasi ghat, going to one of the many Varanasi temples or enjoying the street food of Varanasi, there are lots of things to do and places to visit in Varanasi.
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Varanasi got its name from tributaries of the river Ganga on two ends of the city - Varuna and Assi. In present day Varanasi city, Varuna is a Ganga tributary whereas Assi is a ghat located on one end of Varanasi.
Best Time to Visit Varanasi
- Spring (March - April): Varanasi can get either too hot or too cold. Thus the spring months of March and April are one of the best times to visit Varanasi.
- Summer (April - June): The summer months can get extremely hot in Varanasi. The heat can get too overbearing to handle. It's best to avoid visiting Varanasi during summer.
- Monsoon (July - September): While it doesn't rain a whole lot in Varanasi compared to the tropical regions of India, the combination of humidity and heat is terrible.
- Fall (October - November): This is, in my opinion, the best time to visit Varanasi. The weather is neither too hot nor too cold. The days are pleasant. Whats more, the famous Dev Diwali festival is celebrated in November in Varanasi. Read more on that below.
- Winter (December - February): The cold winter months are the best season to visit Varanasi if you like to avoid the crowds.
How to Reach Varanasi
You can reach the city of Varanasi by various modes of transport such as flight, train, bus etc.
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1. By Flight
The Lal Bahadur Shashtri airport in Varanasi is well connected to the major Indian cities like Delhi and Mumbai. The airport is located roughly an hour's drive from the city. Upon exiting the airport, one can book a cab ride to the city centre using a ride booking app such as Ola.
2. By Train
The Varanasi junction railway station as well as Manduadih railway station are both located right in the middle of the city. In fact, both these railway stations are huge landmark in themselves. You will find trains to Varanasi from cities all over India.
3. By Bus
In case you want to make a budget trip to Varanasi, you can get around using the Uttar Pradesh state transport buses. Not just that, you will even find private air conditioned buses to Varanasi from nearby major cities.
Best Hotels in Varanasi - Near Ghats
If you're looking to enjoy all the places to visit in Varanasi (Banaras) then it's advisable to stay near the Varanasi ghats. Here you will find the best hotels in Varanasi as well as budget hotels and even hostels. It's advisable to stay close to Dashashwamedha ghat since it's the location of the famous Ganga aarti and it has a popular shopping market plus lots of restaurants.
Places to Visit in Varanasi or Banaras, India
Apart from a plethora of ghats and temples, there are lots of places to visit in Varanasi. You can take a boat ride to view all the ghats, go temple hopping, shop for Banarasi silk clothing and sample the local street food among other things to do in Varanasi. Take a look at some of the top Varanasi sightseeing places:
1. Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Kashi Vishwanath temple is the most popular Varanasi temple. It's dedicated to the Hindu Lord Shiva. There are two temples of the same name in Varanasi. One of them is the old Kashi Vishwanath temple located near Dashashwamedha ghat whereas the new one is located inside the Banaras Hindu University(BHU). The old temple was the target of a terror attack back in 2010 due to which there is heavy security and no electronic devices are allowed inside. It's a wildly popular pilgrimage site. On the other hand, the new temple inside BHU is a lot quieter.
2. Ramnagar Fort
Ramnagar Fort is an old fort on the outskirts of Varanasi located approximately 15-20 km from the city. This Mughal style fort was built back in 1750 by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh. Parts of the fort have been turned into a museum that holds artefacts and relics from the time that the Kashi Naresh lived in this sandstone palace. The magnificent fort looks over the river Ganga. It's a good place to spend the evening in Varanasi.
Sarnath is another one of the top places to visit in Varanasi. Located at a mere distance of 10 km from the city, it makes a perfect day trip from Varanasi. Sarnath is believed to be one of the 4 pilgrimage sites that a dutiful Gautam Buddha follower must visit. This religiously-significant place has been known by many names such as Mrigadeva, Migadāya, Rishipattana and Isipatana. Among the things to see in modern day Sarnath, you'll find various stupas, an archaeological museum, the Ashoka pillar, many ruins and a Buddha statue.
4. Varanasi Ghats
Among all the places to visit in Varanasi, the ghats occupy the top spot among all the sightseeing places. Ghat is a term for a riverside spot that has steps leading down to the river. Varanasi is world famous for it's many ghats. A trip to Varanasi is futile if you haven't done a boat ride along the Varanasi ghats. Personally, I found the best way to experience the Varanasi ghats was to take a one-way boat ride from Assi ghat to Dashashwamedha ghat and then walk back along the ghats back to where I started.
If you had to visit just one place or ghat in Varanasi, Dashashwamedh ghat would be it. This is the ghat where the very famous Ganga aarti is performed. Every evening, just after sunset, a group of local priests gather to perform a grand evening prayer at the ghat. The sight is nothing short of spectacular! While you're at the ghat, be sure to take some time out to talk to a local priest about the legends and myths associated with the formation of the ghat.
Assi is a ghat which is located at one end of all the ghats in Varanasi. This is the place where all the nicer river-side restaurants and trendy cafes are located. I suggest making your way to Assi ghat, renting a boat here to cruise along the ghats then return back and try local food at one of the many restaurants and cafes here. While you're at this ghat, do try the local masala chai. It's a unique chai that's exclusive to the Varanasi ghats.
5. Kabir Math
Did you know that Varanasi is also termed as a music city? Some of the most renowned musicians, artists and poets in India are born in Varanasi. Among all these artists, Kabir Das, a 15th century saint, is the most famous poet to be born in Varanasi. He was found floating in a lake as a baby by a local couple in Lahartara, Varanasi. Today, his remains have been kept near the very same lake. In-fact, his final resting place has been turned into a mansion cum temple.
Shopping for Banarasi Silk Clothing
Any one making a trip to Varanasi can't leave without shopping some traditional banarasi silk clothing items. Varanasi or Banaras is famous for the Banarasi silk weave. For this reason, one can easily find lots of Banarasi silk clothing items are various shops across the city. However, Godowlia market is the most famous Varanasi shopping spot. Here one can very easily step find Banarasi dupattas, salwar kameez, sarees and fabric in various prints, colours and in any budget. Moreover, the market is located right near the Dashashwamedha ghat and even has a good local food scene going on.
Celebrating Dev Deepavali in Varanasi
Dev Deepavali or Dev Diwali is a festival celebrated with huge fervour in Varanasi. This festival takes place on the day of Kartik Purnima in accordance with the Hindu calendar. According to Hindu mythology, on this day, all Gods came together and defeated the demons Tripurasura and thus celebrated Dev Diwali i.e. Diwali of the Gods. On the occasion of Dev Deepavali in Varanasi, there are diyas (lamps) lit up on all ghats. Scores of people flock to the Dashashwamedha ghat to see the evening aarti and to take a boat ride to see the ghats.
The best way to enjoy Dev Diwali in Varanasi is to get to Assi ghat well before sunset and grab a good seat on a boat. Make sure you tell your boatman to stop at Dashashwamedha ghat during the evening Ganga aarti. It's the best way to beat the crowds and celebrate a hassle-free Dev Deepavali festival.
Places to Eat in Varanasi
Varanasi is famous for the plethora of street food items. Some of the must-try food in Varanasi is kachori, chola samosa, chaat, paan and baati chokha. You can find these food items almost everywhere. Kashi Bhandar located in Godowlia market is the go-to place for chaat items. Read about all the street food to try in Varanasi. On the other hand, if you're looking for western food, Assi ghat has many restaurants and cafes that specialise in both Indian and Western fare.